Thursday, January 21, 2016

Celebrating George Harrison's 73rd Birthday

Musicians of all flavors and eras, including Brian Wilson, Perry Farrell, The Flaming Lips, "Weird" Al Yankovic, and Norah Jones, gathered at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles one - otherwise unceremonious - evening in September 2014 to perform the music of George Harrison. Music and video from that evening, dubbed "George Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of George Harrison," will be released February 26, 2016, the day after what would have been his 73rd birthday.

Harrison, the so-called quiet Beatle, was anything but, when it came to artistic expression. Even in the shadow of the towering Lennon-McCartney songwriting monoduolith, Harrison gave us some of The Beatles' most gorgeous songs, including "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," with a little help from Eric Clapton and released in 1968's "White Album." And the very next year, Harrison gave us "Something" off "Abbey Road."

But arguably, the full spectrum of Harrison's glimmering songwriting and guitar chops didn't come into focus until The Beatles' break up in April 1970. As if to say, I'm done being the quite one, he dropped the critically acclaimed, commercially successful, and very ambitious triple album "All Things Must Pass" on November 27, 1970 - just eight months after the break up. It included songs The Beatles had previously passed on, including the title track. It also included his masterpiece, "My Sweet Lord." If this doesn't give you chills, check your pulse.

His solo music career continued to thrive for many years, but not before Harrison the Activist reached another career pinnacle in 1971, when he spearheaded the Concert for Bangladesh to raise international awareness and funds for refugees from Bangladesh, then East Pakistan. It became the model for future massive, social-awareness, benefit concerts, including Live Aid and Farm Aid.

In 1988, Harrison formed one of the most remarkable A-list supergroups ever. Along with Jeff Lynne, the group consisted of music giants Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty.

Given his place in the pantheon of music, revisiting his catalogue through the interpretation of some of his greatest fans, who also happen to be great musicians, seems appropriate. Harrison wrote The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," also off "Abbey Road." In the Fab Four's incomparable repertoire, which includes some of the greatest rock 'n' roll pop songs ever recorded, "Here Comes the Sun" might just be among their finest and most revered songs. This is one of the many covers that will be available in the upcoming "George Fest" release. This rendition features Farrell on vocals, the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne on guitar, Norah Jones on back vocals, with several other musicians, including George's boy Dhani, playing and singing along.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Brian Wilson flattered (and elated)

By Brian Wilson's admission, he essentially worshipped Phil Spector and his famed wall of sound - complex, layered arrangements of music that left no dead air within songs. Wilson particularly loved The Ronettes' "Be My Baby." Though a little far-fetched, some music insiders even speculated Wilson's masterpiece "Pet Sounds" had the same initials as Spector as a nod to him.

But by most accounts, Spector was never very gracious to Brian's adulation. And when Brian wrote the gorgeous doo-wop, Motown-sounding ballad "Don't Worry Baby" with the intention of the Ronettes recording it, Spector was dismissive - he passed on it. The Beach Boys ended up recording a fine version.

I was surprised to learn that in 1999 Ronnie Spector, ex-wife of Phil Spector, and lead vocalist of the Ronettes finally recorded Brian's "Don't Worry Baby." Brian's reaction - when KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer tells him this on the air - is pure gold.